Nadya’s War is the rare WWII tale that focuses on the Soviets as allies and even rarer in that its protagonist is a female pilot with the Red Army, Nadya Buzina. She is not a fervent Communist, however. Her father fought with the White Army and she believes in God, two facts to keep hidden from her superiors. Commissar Petrov has his suspicions of her, and her place in the 586th regiment is continually threatened.
This is a tough, brutal read. Shot down on a mission, Nadya suffers burns and steals morphine to cope with the pain and the loss of her fellow pilots on that flight. I know absolutely nothing about being a pilot, but Taylor brings the reader into the cockpit with Nadya, both when she’s on her game and flying with skill and when she’s under the influence of the drug and shouldn’t be in the air at all. In the flight that injured her, Nadya was close enough to the German plane to note its distinctive markings. When she is allowed to fly again, bringing this particular pilot down consumes her.
The narrative is quite matter-of-fact about Nadya being a female pilot, which is refreshing. She’s in an all-female regiment, so still subject to segregation and sexism, but it’s taken for granted that all the pilots with whom she flies are skilled, and this is their contribution to the Motherland in wartime. Less surprising is the oppressiveness. Taylor paints a harsh, realistic picture of Soviet opposition to religion, homosexuality, anti-Communism, and free thought. Nadya is sent to “the box” a number of times, but her spirit remains resilient. I finished the book with admiration for this complicated Soviet woman, who was much more interesting than a Cold War villain in a Bond film.